ACTION ALERT: Contact your representatives and urge them to vote AGAINST the Duke Energy rate hike bill, SB559! It could get voted on next week!

The NCGA is on break until Monday October 21st, but as we all know, that by no means guarantees the absence of newsworthy content out of the NCGA. For now, it looks like Governor Cooper’s veto of the budget will hold in the Senate; Democrats are sticking together. Sen. Berger still plans to finish up the Senate session at the end of this month, whether an override is accomplished or not. According to him, the mini-budget bills already passed and several more upcoming would take care of most of the problem. Berger won’t be able to brush aside things like teacher pay, NC Dept. of Transportation funding, and, of course, Medicaid expansion as easily, so it’s likely those things won’t be resolved until the new session begins.

Never fear, political news junkies, you won’t run out of news to consume this month: the three-judge panel in charge of the new gerrymandering case Harper v Lewis has set a date for its first hearing: Thursday October 24th at 10am at Campbell University School of Law. The linked NC Policy Watch article gives a good summary of the case. The judges set this date after they granted the plaintiffs’ request for an expedited hearing. Hopefully, the case may be heard and the decision may be rendered in enough time for these districts to be redrawn ahead of 2020.

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But if the Republican legislative defendants get their way, the case may not be heard at all. They filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case because they allege there is a “colorable conflict” between their duties to the Voting Rights Act and what state law mandates.

"... [a] conflict arises between the plaintiffs’ asserted state-law theories and the legislative defendants’ obligations under federal law because the relief sought would require intentionally dismantling a “crossover” district, which, the document states, would violate an  equal-protection prohibition."

They compare this situation to a pair of federal cases against Trump, where in a court ruled that a case involving Trump’s federal tax returns and a case involving his New York tax returns were not related. So, by the wild leaps of logic they've become famous for, Republican lawmakers are asking the court to throw Harper v Lewis out.

When last we left Common Cause v Lewis, the plaintiffs had filed a challenge to the redrawn House maps, saying that the redraws were not actually drawn free of partisan intent. Incumbents in five county groupings “acted with partisan intent and impermissibly sought to preserve the cores of their prior districts, in violation of the Court’s mandates.” The plaintiffs want the court to reject those five groupings and have prof. Nathaniel Persily redraw the districts himself. The court is reviewing the filings now, and hopefully they’ll hand their verdict down before early December, which is when the NCBOE would need data on the new districts to create absentee ballots for the 2020 elections.

The Durham County Board of Elections rejected a challenge by a failed candidate in last week’s municipal primary that questioned Javiera Caballero’s citizenship. Caballero became the first Latina on the Durham City Council 2 years ago and will advance to the general election in November along with her colleagues Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece. Caballero emigrated from Chile and became a US citizen when she was 14 years old.

Last month I reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield and its competitor Aetna were involved in a spat over a $6 billion (yearly) contract for North Carolina’s new managed care Medicaid system. Aetna complained that BCBS had an unfair advantage. This week we learn what a part of that advantage may have been: a relationship between a Department of Health & Human Services committee member who analyzed proposals for the contract and a BCBS executive. But wait, there’s more: “Aetna's petition is before the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which reviews these sorts of disputes. The company made several allegations about the scoring process and a handful of DHHS employees involved, including… one who took a job with Blue Cross after the contract was awarded and [one] who worked for Blue Cross before joining DHHS.” Both BCBS and DHHS are arguing that these facts (which are not in dispute) do not constitute a conflict of interest or prove the process used to pick BCBS was unfair.

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In this week’s edition of the Eyeroll Express, the Republicans’ latest greatest (written with all the sarcasm I can muster) attempt to discredit Medicaid expansion has arrived, and y’all, it’s something else. Sen. Jim Perry, a freshman from Lenior County, argues essentially that expanding Medicaid would be too much of a good thing for North Carolina’s uninsured, filling doctors’ offices with too many patients for them to handle. Instead of working to fix the dearth of primary care providers in North Carolina, Perry appears to believe the best solution is to just leave those hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians uninsured and let the problem hang where it is. Perry’s "argument" is based on findings from research done eight years ago, which its author has since retracted because the glut of patients he expected from the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in other states did not come to pass.

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Sometime during the week of November 4th, Governor Cooper’s office will hold a public hearing regarding a permit his office granted for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last year. This hearing is the partial result of investigations initiated by Republicans into an allegation that Gov. Cooper pushed the pipeline into paying $57.8 million into an environmental mitigation fund in exchange for the permit. Gov. Cooper has denied this. Given that Republican lawmakers both originated the allegation and hired investigators to look into it, I’m inclined to believe Gov Cooper’s denial of the claim. Nevertheless, this pipeline is bad news for North Carolina and our questions and concerns deserve answering.

PFAS: the curse that keeps on cursing. PFAS were—and likely still are—present in the water in Wilmington at “extreme levels” for years prior to data collection efforts between 2014 and 2016. Officials recommend that people should not drink water with PFAS levels above 70 parts per trillion (ppt), but the Wilmington water weighed in at a whopping 130,000 ppt. Chemours said that it stopped discharging PFAS into the water last year, but PFAS have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment.

Pittsboro is experiencing its own elevated levels of PFAS. Although not near the 130,000 ppt level in Wilmington, the tap water in Pittsboro is still dangerous: 109.3 ppt. Environmental officials and scientists will answer questions at a public meeting Wednesday (today!) from 6-8 pm at the Chatham County Agricultural Conference Center.

The gun control debate has faded from the news cycle for now, but that doesn't mean there aren't many people still working behind the headlines. The N&O released a report last week that delves into dollars-and-cents detail on the NRA's influence in North Carolina. For state lawmakers, it may be less than you thought: “The NRA political action committee gave $14,800 to legislators from January 2017 through June 2019. All of the members are Republicans.” Our US Senators have received just a tad more than that, however. “NRA groups had spent nearly $7 million on behalf of Burr as of early 2018, and $4.5 million on behalf of Tillis, with much of it used to campaign against their opponents.” If you can't read the full report because of a paywall, NC Policy Watch summarizes it here. But I'd strongly recommend opening a new private tab and reading the full report, linked above.

While Berger and Moore were busy lining their pockets with money from the NRA, our Democratic legislators were busy winning awards and upholding democracy. Rep. Deb Butler, she of “I will not yield” fame, will be awarded the 2019 Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award next month. “The international award recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender elected officials whose political career advances equality for LGBTQ people, according to the [Victory] institute.” Contact her and congratulate her for her outstanding leadership, courage, and commitment to the kind of democracy that makes this state a welcoming and wonderful place to live.

Dan McCready, who barely lost the special election in NC-09 last month, penned an article in the New York Times on Monday that is both a postmortem of his unsuccessful campaign and an offering of inoculation for future campaigns against his loss. He discusses three things he learned on the campaign trail that he believes will help Democrats campaign effectively and keep the blue tide surging: root your campaign in personal yet widely held values, engage with voters on a personal level, and don't give up on rural voters. The combination of these three tactics, he said, allowed McCready to build a campaign in which voters trusted him because they knew him, which insulated his campaign against smear attacks by his opponents. “If Democrats lead with our values,” he says, “meet voters where they are and show up everywhere, we can do amazing things. If Democrats nationwide replicate our 10-point gain next year, we will pick up 35 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate, and win every presidential battleground state. Bringing our country together depends on it.”

Whether you're on Twitter or not, I recommend giving this thread a read. I wouldn't call it a rebuttal of McCready's piece since it addresses not his decisions but his campaign advisers', but election analyst Rachel Bitecofer looks at McCready's loss with her own practiced eye and exposes a truth we all must understand: the kind of hyperpartisan polarization the Republicans are driving has rendered a lot of traditional campaign strategies– McCready's included– outdated.

To keep the blue tide flowing, we must marry McCready's optimism and faith in people with Bitecofer's wise and farseeing perception.

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Tags: (ICYMI, NCGA, gerrymandering, medicaid expansion, BCBS, voter issue: environment, gun control, 2020 elections)

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